Agriculture is critical to Ynys Môn. It always has been. We are not Môn Mam Cymru without good reason. The farming community is important to Ynys Môn and it is important to me; many of the farmers here helped me turn the seat blue for the first time in 32 years and I owe them and their families a debt of gratitude. For these reasons I have worked hard within Government to ensure that the views of Anglesey farmers are being heard loud and clear by the people making our national policies. This week I arranged a private zoom meeting with Brian Bown, NFU Cymru Anglesey Country Chairman and his team and the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Rt Hon George Eustice MP where they discussed in detail the new Agricultural Bill and how it will support and protect farmers on Ynys Môn. Last week I held a meeting with the NFU Cymru and the Shadow Secretary of State for Agriculture, Janet Finch-Saunders MS/AS with another planned soon for the Farmers’ Union of Wales and Ffermwyr Ifanc Môn. A few weeks ago I welcomed the Rt Hon Amanda Milling MP onto the island and took her to meet farmers near Llangefni.
The background to the Agricultural Bill is Brexit. We need this Bill as the basis from which to manage our Agriculture from January. There are two aspects of Brexit that this Bill addresses:
1. Our Home Producers
On Ynys Môn, throughout Wales and across the UK our farmers have exceptionally high standards. One of the reasons the nation voted for Brexit was to give us the opportunity to deliver a support system for UK farmers which is reactive to their need and rewards good practice. What is more, a system which does not fund their rivals in the EU. Brexit also creates great opportunities for us to strike good free trade agreements which will allow our farmers to trade more widely. Just last month we agreed the first beef exports to the United States in over 20 years giving local farmers a new market for PGI Welsh Beef. This is just one example of the incredible opportunities in store for UK farmers.
2. Developing Countries
The UK has also always supported farmers and producers in developing countries. However, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidises continental European farmers to produce food in quantities that we simply cannot eat. By subsidising farmers on the continent, the EU makes it impossible for impoverished African farmers to compete in the European market and thus they cannot make a sustainable living. Trade with developing countries is key to ending poverty and deprivation in so many nations.
It is these two points that I keep in mind when I am making decisions on the Agriculture Bill and our future trade decisions. This is why I believe that the Lords amendments to the Agriculture Bill don’t work and why I voted against them.
Like everyone in the UK I want to maintain our excellent food standards. It is our high standards that make British produce so attractive to other countries as well as to domestic buyers. The Government reacted to public demands for an independent food standards authority by establishing the Trade and Agriculture Commission earlier this year. The Commission will oversee food standards and includes representation from the NFU and other major farming groups and is chaired by the ex CEO of the Food Standards Agency. However, the Lords amendments create a potentially large set of new conditions that imports under trade agreements would have to meet. These conditions are not part of any existing agreement held by either the UK or the EU. In some cases it would be impossible for our trading partners to meet these conditions.
Whilst I completely agree that access to the UK’s market should not be easy, we cannot put in place so many new conditions to entry that we make trade deals difficult or impossible for our trading partners. This may even result in us losing export markets for our own producers. For example, the Lords amendments would require trading partners to meet UK requirements on nitrate vulnerable zones. Whilst this sounds like a good standard to enforce, these requirements are specifically designed to suit UK conditions and there are countries with climates and environments that would make this impossible.
As well as potentially disrupting trade agreements that are already in the advanced stages of negotiation, such restrictions could also affect our existing markets. In weighing up how I vote on the Agriculture Bill I must consider the cost that could come to not only existing exports, but any future potential export agreements.
If we accepted the Lords amendments our trading partners will need to meet a vast range of production standards – standards that we do not currently require them to meet. The cost of assessing and documenting compliance would rest with our trading partners. The more standards we add, the greater the cost for developing countries where the validation infrastructure and processes may not already be in place. The cost of implementation could add to the cost of imports as well as impacting the economic wellbeing of farmers in developing countries.
There is much that we import which we cannot produce in the UK but which UK companies add value to before retailing:
• £105m of bananas are imported annually from a variety of developing countries including the Dominican Republic, Belize, and Cameroon. British companies like Jordans Cereals and Dorset Cereals would be directly impacted if our own legislation on the protection of animals, plants and habitats could not be met by the importing countries.
• A similar problem would be faced by British confectionary and dessert manufacturers such as Tunnock’s, Cadbury and Mr Kipling if our annual £70m of cocoa bean imports from countries such as Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria were affected.
• We import around £213m of black tea per year, the majority of which comes from Kenya. UK businesses such as Taylors, Twinings and Spicers all package and distribute tea imports.
• We import around £108m of coffee each year, from Vietnam, Ghana, Indonesia and other developing nations. If those countries were required to provide evidence that they meet UK carbon emission targets as set out in the Climate Change Act, our hospitality sector would be massively impacted.
“That’s all very well”, you may say, “Bananas and coffee are one thing, but what about the produce we do grow or raise in the UK? What about our Welsh lamb? Our farmers have high standards of animal welfare, so they use kinder but more expensive methods to produce their meat. If farmers overseas don’t have to meet those expensive animal welfare farming standards, they will bring in cheaper imports from animals they treat cruelly and undercut our farmers putting them out of business.”
Good question! I can reassure you that our animal and plant standards are enshrined in existing legislation. This includes import requirements. The EU (Withdrawal) Act moves across existing standards on animal welfare, animal and plant health, and food safety from EU law. For example, the legislation for the ban on hormones in beef is contained in EU legislation 2003/74/EC and the legislation preventing the import of chicken washed in chlorinated (non-potable) water is contained in regulation (EC) 853/2004 – the provisions of both now form part of UK law. Any changes to existing legislation would have to be brought before Parliament. The Agriculture Bill does not make any changes to this legislation.
I hope this outlines why I could not support amendments which would have such a catastrophic effect, not only on the future potential of UK agricultural businesses but would have a devastating impact on our existing imports, which are not only vital products in the UK market, but would also have a terrible impact on the exports so vital to the economies of developing nations. I could not support any amendment that would have such devastating consequences for the UK’s food supply and our ability to strike trade agreements which will benefit our producers.